As you may have noticed by now, Native American style flutes come in many different shapes, sizes keys and just to make things more confusing they also come with 5 holes and with 6. Why is this?
When you play the pentatonic minor scale on the Native flute (the scale most of your favorite NA flute music is played in) you always leave the third hole down from the top closed. If you open it you will find it sounds out of tune, so why have it at all?
Here’s why, with the addition of the 6th hole you can play many other scales with relative ease. In this post I will show you how to play the pentatonic minor scale, the 4th hole scale (for lack of a better name), the diatonic major scale, the Celtic scale, and the middle eastern Hijaz scale. These are not the only scales you can play, but that’s all I have time to show you today.
The Pentatonic Minor Scale
To begin, lets review what the pentatonic minor scale looks like, to make the written instructions easier to follow let’s number the holes.The bottom hole furthest away from your mouth is #6 and the one closest to your mouth is #1.
Cover all holes, lift hole #6, lift hole #5, lift hole #4, lift hole #2, lift hole #1.
Notice how I leave hole #3 covered? This 5-note scale is very easy to learn, and it is wonderful for improvising music because all these notes sound good together in any order. This is the same scale as playing only the black keys on the piano. We like to start people off with this scale, and some flute makers choose to make flutes that feature this scale by removing a fingering hole because it’s so easy to sound good and you can really drift off and play from your heart without worrying about making “bad notes”.
The 4th hole scale
Did you know, if you leave the hole #4 covered instead of hole#3, you get another easy scale that sounds totally different! I don’t have a name for this scale, leave a comment if you know what’s it’s called. I think this one is really fun and easy to play.
The Celtic Scale
Ready to challenge yourself? This Celtic scale is a tiny bit more challenging, but it sounds amazing! Your native flute is transformed into an Irish penny whistle (ok not really, but close!)
Begin with all holes covered, lift hole #5, lift hole #6, Lift hole #4, halfway lift hole #2 by sliding your finger forward or backward to “half hole”, next open hole #2 all the way, finally lift hole #1 leaving hole #3 covered (as you do in the pentatonic scale) . Now reverse and go back down!
The Diatonic “Major” scale – Method 1
This one is very tricky and takes lots of practice. Play the lowest note, lift hole #6 half way by rocking your finger forward or backwards,lift hole #5 with hole #6 covered, lift hole #6, lift hole #4, lift hole #3,lift hole #2, cover hole #3 and lift hole #1.
Start with hole #6 uncovered, lift hole #5, lift hole #4,cover hole #4 and lift hole #3, lift #4 cover #3 and lift #2, lift #1 leaving#3 covered, cover #5 #4 and #3 and over blow, half hole #5 and over blow (with #4 and #3 covered). Now you can play the age-old classic “Mary had a little lamb”.
The Hijaz or “Middle Eastern” scale
Start with all holes covered, lift hole #6 slightly less than halfway, cover hole #6 and lift hole #5, lift hole #6, lift hole #4, cover hole #4 and lift hole #3, cover hole #3 and lift holes #4 and #2, lift hole #1 leaving hole #3 covered.
As you advance your flute playing you will learn ways to half hole that feel comfortable to you. Some people simply slid their finger back a bit, some rock it forward. I often use both methods while playing. You often have to try for a while to find the sweet spot and your flute might sound raspy or buzzy until you get the hang of this technique.
I hope you found this post useful! Until next time, good fluting!